Work of deceased folk artist comes to life again

Tribal Art

To honour deceased folk artist Jangarh Singh Shyam, an exhibition of his work will be hosted in the Capital from December 18-20.

  Along with the work of the artist, paintings of his daughter Japani Shyam will also be at display in the same exhibition which is to be held at Gallerie Ganesha , Greater Kailash II. The exhibition is titled ‘Tribal Tales’.
Considered to be one of the most celebrated folk artists of India, Shyam, born in 1962, belonged to the Gond tribe of Madhya Pradesh. As a boy he lived in the jungles of Mandla and was discovered by the legendary artist Jagdish Swaminathan, who brought him to Roopankar Museum in Bhopal and introduced him to the modernist mainstream. Shyam not only made the difficult transition from tribal to urban life-style but gained almost instant recognition. Shyam is also the first known modern-day Gond tribal artist.

Even after his tragic suicide in Tokyo, Japan at the age of 39, the young artist went on to leave a permanent impression in the minds of the discerning art audience.

“From his hometown where he created mural paintings on walls to his last works before his sudden death in 2001, he continued to evolve and his creativity is worthy of the greatest names in contemporary art. His style is characterised by a feeling of intense vibration and the cohesion of his work reveals both the animist culture of Gond tribe and one of the foundations of Indian thought,” said Shobha Bhatia, director, Gallerie Ganesha.
 How this talent was discovered is a story in itself. According to the organisers, Swaminathan began a study tour in the 80’s and visited the Mandla district where the painted walls of a house held his attention.

The creator of these paintings was none other than Shyam himself. His brilliant use of bright colours along with dots and free-flowing lines impressed Swaminathan, who invited him to Bhopal to create murals in the Charles Correa-designed arts complex, Bharat Bhavan.

His works would later be shown in art shows and festivals both in India and abroad, including a successful showing at the Paris’ Centre Pompidou. The Madhya Pradesh government bestowed on him the highest state award, the Shikhar Samman, in 1986.

Singh Shyam named his daughter Japani (now 26) after his visit to Japan which was one of his favourite countries where he reportedly committed suicide after he accused his sponsors of exploiting his art work and not letting him return home.

Japani started painting at a very early age and she says her father would always encourage her to paint the way she wanted and never criticised her work. She feels that is the reason why she began to paint with confidence and in 1999, at the age of eleven, she was given the Kamala Devi Award.

“Japani’s main motif is the world of animals and birds, their struggle for food, their sense of camaraderie, their different mood. Another motif is the world of rituals, beliefs among the Gonds which she was exposed to when she went to the villages of Pantangarh and Sonpur, where her parents came from. Being a city bred girl, she looks at them from a distance and at the same time she feels she is a part of them,” the organisers added.

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